Stay safe when walking your dog


Most of the time, walking your dog is an enjoyable way of spending time together, but there’s also plenty of potential for getting into trouble. Karen Bush advises.

There’s safety in numbers, so walking with others is a good idea.

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Safety in numbers

Walking with others when possible is safer than walking alone, but even with a companion you can still encounter difficulties, so tell someone where you’re going and how long you plan to be. Remember to let them know on your return so they don’t send out search parties needlessly!

If you’re new to an area, joining a rambling group can be a great way of finding good walks, making friends (and maybe finding a daily walking buddy), and learning about any local hazards. Some dog clubs also organise regular walks for members, as do breed interest groups. If there’s nothing currently near you, consider setting something up yourself — it will benefit others as well as you.

It’s a sad indictment of our society, but where taking your dog for a walk used to be a great icebreaker, nowadays you should exercise caution about talking to strangers. It may all be perfectly innocent if someone approaches, asks questions about your pet, and bends down to stroke them; but equally, there may be more sinister intentions. Keep your distance, and act on your instincts; if something looks or feels wrong, then get away from the situation as quickly as possible. Try to vary the routes you take for daily walks, and if possible the time too; some dogs have been targeted and snatched by thieves who have been watching them previously. Be aware too of vehicles nearby slowing down as they get close to you. 

Don’t let your dogs get too far away from you, particularly if their recall is not always reliable.

Dress appropriately

Dress suitably for the terrain and weather. Wearing something high-vis is always a good idea. If you have to walk along the edge of a road with no pavement, it’ll be easier for motorists to see you; even in good weather you can easily blend into the background, particularly alongside shaded hedge lines. In the event of having an accident in more remote and secluded places, it’ll also be easier for rescuers to spot you.
Sensible footwear is essential for comfort, stability — and so you can run away from danger if necessary. Don’t put anything around your neck that someone could grab hold of; carry your lead in your hand and either put items such as your whistle and personal alarm in a pocket or bumbag, or attach them to your belt using short lanyards and trigger clips.

Try to avoid walking in the dark; if you have no choice, stick to well-lit routes, kit yourself and your dog out in high-vis clothing, and wear lights. 

Don’t be distracted

Always be aware of your surroundings and the people around you. Leave headphones and earbuds at home as they may muffle sounds you should be aware of, whether traffic, or a cyclist or jogger approaching. Except in an emergency, stay off your mobile; it advertises the fact you have something worth stealing. It also distracts your attention away from what your dog is doing — and after all, taking him for a walk should be quality time for you
to share, rather than spent listening to music, catching up on gossip, or sorting work issues. 

Keep your eyes on your dog, and if the reliability of his recall dwindles with distance, keep him within a close radius of you. If you have to walk him when it’s dark, keep him on a lead, to ensure he can’t wander off out of sight or get into any trouble before you realise what
has happened.

Getting help in an emergency

No matter how careful you are, sometimes things happen that are out of your control. Always carry a mobile phone with you so you can call for help if necessary; make sure the battery is charged up before setting out anywhere. If you are using GPS on your smartphone to help you navigate your way, it can run it down quite quickly so it’s not
a bad idea to take a cheap PAYG mobile as a backup. 
You can contact emergency services — police, fire, ambulance, coastguard, and mountain rescue — by ringing 999. Calls are free: speak slowly and clearly and ask for the service (or services) you need. Provide your name, the number you’re ringing from, and your location, being as accurate as you can and mentioning any hazards. Don’t hang up until the control officer has cleared the line, and leave your phone switched on so the emergency services can call you back if necessary.

Make the most of your phone’s functions.

Get some tech

It’s worth exploring some of the apps available, such as a tracker you can download to your phone which allows
a trusted family member or friend to see your real-time location. You might also find that investing in a tracking device for your dog gives you peace of mind. While he should have a reliable recall before you let him loose, should it fail for any reason you will at least be able to see where he’s run off to. 

How familiar are you with all your phone’s functions? Consult the user manual to find out how to make emergency calls before the need arises. Modern smartphones (and smartwatches) can be set up to auto-call and message designated contacts without having to dial them, and can send your location, even if you are unable to talk on the phone at that moment in time. You can also set up quick, easy ways to directly call emergency services too.

Other animals

You might consider humans or other dogs to be the most likely source of danger, but don’t discount other animals. Legalities aside, letting your dog chase wildlife while out for a walk is never a good idea, and some animals are anything but defenceless; deer, for example, have razor sharp hooves that can inflict fearsome injuries, and even squirrels can bite back. 

Farm animals and horses can also pose a hazard on occasion too. Avoid entering fields they’re in if possible, but should you have no choice, keep your dog on a short lead and give them a wide berth, ensuring you don’t come between any mothers and their young. If threatened, exit the area calmly and quickly, dropping your dog’s lead to make it easier for you both to reach safety.

Don’t let your dog chase the wildlife.

Be prepared

The basics to carry with you — even if it’s just a quick walk around the block — should include a mobile phone and personal alarm. On longer walks or where you’re going to be off the beaten track, also take a pocket first-aid kit which can double up for both you and your dog, plus a whistle.

In more out-of-the-way areas, the sound of a whistle carries better than your voice; six blasts repeated at one minute intervals is the international distress signal. 

Every situation is different, but generally, official police advice is to try to avoid confrontation. If someone threatens you:

Shout for help and set off your personal alarm. The idea of the alarm is to shock and distract an attacker, so choose one that is as loud and shrill as possible and makes a continuous noise. It should also be easy to set off with one hand, and be carried where you can reach it quickly. If you need to use it, set it off, holding it as close to the attacker’s face as you can; then drop it at their feet and remove yourself and your dog from the situation as quickly as possible.

If other people are nearby, attract their attention. Shouting ‘Call the police!’ makes it clear you’re in danger and need help.

If you have to walk in the dark, stick to well-lit routes.

Take a course

Learning some basic human and canine first aid will ensure you know the right action to take in an emergency, and could save a life.

 Top Tip 

Keep a list of In Case of Emergency (ICE) contacts on your phone’s address book, labelled ICE1, ICE 2, and so on. In the event of a serious accident, you might not be conscious, so it can also be a good idea to wear an ICE wristband similar to the ones favoured by cyclists, with ICE contacts and any important medical information such as allergies.